LONDON–Animal activists in China have saved hundreds of cats from certain death at an illegal cat meat slaughterhouse in Tianjin, following a tip-off from a young man heartbroken over the disappearance of his beloved cat.
On December 1st, China Animal Protection Power — a rescue group formed with the help of animal charity Humane Society International – together with animal lovers in Tianjin, discovered 375 cats crammed tightly together in 24 wire cages. CAPP activists had long suspected that an illegal slaughter operation existed somewhere in that part of Tianjin’s suburbs, but had been unable to prove it until a young man looking for his lost cat revealed the location of the slaughter operation. His cat had disappeared some 2 weeks earlier and he was convinced his pet had been stolen by dog and cat thieves who frequently snatch animals for the meat trade. His search for the cat led him to the slaughter operation.
CAPP reports that the cats at the slaughterhouse were in terrible condition, many emaciated and sick, crying out from being crushed together in the cages. There were piles of cat hair outside, the remains of countless thousands of cats slaughtered at the site in the past.
Mr Huang, a leading member of CAPP and one of the first to arrive at the illegal slaughterhouse, said: “The first three cages of the cats we saw were heart breaking. They were cages of misery. The hungry and sick cats cried louder when we approached them as if asking us to help them.”
Tianjin police revealed that they had received more than 1,200 phone calls from people across China urging them to crack down on this illegal slaughterhouse, an indication that news of the raid had spread on Chinese social media WeChat. Campaigners from Beijing also joined the rescue effort after being alerted.
Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist at Humane Society International, says: “The way cats are killed for China’s meat trade is notoriously brutal. They are grabbed around the throat with large iron tongs and then beaten over the head with a metal or wooden stick whilst their terrified cage mates look on. Some may still be conscious when they are thrown into a pot of boiling water to remove their hair. After that they are disembowelled, beheaded and de-footed to disguise the species, before being shipped to buyers. This is the fate of an estimated 4 million cats a year in China, a mixture of stolen pets and urban strays. I have rescued cats from these slaughterhouses myself, and they are utterly grotesque places, often with piles of fur and pet collars thrown in the corner.”
North China, where the slaughterhouse is located, has no market itself for cat meat, although activists suspect that cat meat is sometimes sold as mutton or rabbit at roadside BBQ food stands. North, Central and Southeast China supply cat meat for sale in the two remote provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi in South China where cat eating occurs.
The dog and cat meat trade operates illegally due to the fact that a significant number of the animals are stolen pets, and because neither cats nor dogs are recognised under the law as livestock, so slaughterhouses have no legal defence in killing them for human consumption. Slaughterhouses also routinely breach environmental pollution and waste disposal regulations, and traders regularly flout China’s food safety laws by transporting huge numbers of cats and dogs across provincial borders without the required health certificates because most of the animals have been illegally acquired. As there are no animal protection laws in China, it is these environmental and health regulations that animal activists like CAPP increasingly use to persuade the police to crack down on the dog and cat meat trade.
Mr. Huang said, “CAPP activists negotiated with the local police department to confiscate all 375 cats who were signed over to Beijing’s Capital Animal Welfare Association. We wanted not simply to save these individual cats, but to see the slaughterhouse permanently shut down, and to encourage the authorities to intensify action to crack down on all such illegal slaughter operations across the country. If the authorities enforced existing food safety, animal disease control, and property protection laws, we would see a huge decline in China’s brutal dog and cat meat trade. A legislative ban on the trade is our ultimate goal, but we don’t need to wait for that to make a difference. We just need police forces willing to act like this one in Tianjin.”
The illegal slaughter operation in Tianjin is now under police investigation, and the cats are in the care of activists who will accommodate them in shelters and homes in Tianjin and Beijing.
Media contact: Wendy Higgins, Director of International Media, firstname.lastname@example.org